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Report: 93% of evictions in Cleveland were prevented during first six months of Right to Counsel program

The program is a public-private partnership between the city of Cleveland, United Way of Greater Cleveland, and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.
Credit: Getty Images/iStockphoto

CLEVELAND — A report prepared by the United Way of Greater Cleveland and The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland shows some promising results from the city's new Right to Counsel (RTC) housing program. 

In the first six months of the program, which started on July 1, 2020, 93% of the eligible RTC clients who were at risk for eviction and were represented by a Legal Aid attorney in Cleveland Housing Court, were able avoid being displaced. 

The RTC Ordinance, passed by Cleveland City Council in October, 2019, enabled Cleveland to become the first city in the Midwest and the fourth city in the nation to provide free legal assistance to low-income tenants facing eviction. The program is a public-private sector partnership between the city of Cleveland, United Way and Legal Aid.

The report also reveals that 83% of Legal Aid RTC clients that were seeking more time to move (30 days or more) during the first six months were able to achieve this outcome.

Despite the good news, RTC partners are concerned about a looming eviction crisis in Cleveland on top of the already existing poverty crisis as the COVID-19 pandemic continues.

"Cleveland is facing an eviction tsunami with devastating consequences if more is not done to provide necessary, ongoing relief to those in need of help, but the team at Right to Counsel Cleveland is working tirelessly to aid families who remain at risk today – a number that continues to rise during the pandemic," said Augie Napoli, president and CEO of United Way of Greater Cleveland and lead partner organization for the RTC program. "A stable home is a basic human right and in its first six months, RTC has shown what is possible when the public and private sector come together to advocate for low-income families at risk of eviction and landlords seeking equitable solutions."

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, approximately 9,000 evictions were filed annually in Cleveland Housing Court, with the majority of evictions involving Black, female head of households with minor children. Filings are expected to dramatically rise among households with similar demographics when rental assistance is depleted and various tenant protections expire on March 31. 

Even before the pandemic began, Cleveland ranked one of the nation's most impoverished cities with the worst poverty rate for children at 50.5 percent and the second worst poverty rates for working adults and seniors among all major U.S. cities. 

According to CHN Housing, nearly 14,000 Cuyahoga County residents who applied for rental assistance have lost more than $203 million in combined annual income as of February 3, 2021.

In addition to free legal representation in Cleveland Housing Court by Legal Aid, RTC provides families with additional resources, including rental assistance and other legal aid. Those eligible for RTC can access services through:

  • Legal Aid's online and phone intake (in-person intake has been suspended temporarily due to COVID-19)
  • The RTC program website at www.FreeEvictionHelp.org
  • 2-1-1 HelpLink, United Way's free and confidential 24/7 service which assists callers with other needs, including food, shelter, employment and more.

Families can find out if they qualify for RTC by visiting www.FreeEvictionHelp.org or calling (216) 687-1900 or 2-1-1.

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Editor's Note: The below story aired on February 3, 2021